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Pamuk: Real love is more like a traffic accident

Nobel Prize-winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk claims love has been sweetened in popular culture -- and that it has more in common with a serious disease.
/ Source: Reuters

Real love is more like a traffic accident than the saccharine stuff of romantic fiction, Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk said on Wednesday at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

The Turkish writer was at the world's largest book fair to talk about his latest book, "Museum of Innocence," a love story between Kemal, the son of a wealthy Istanbul family, and his poor and distant relative — the first book he has published since winning the Nobel Prize in 2006.

Clad in a black corduroy suit, blue shirt and thick-rimmed glasses, Pamuk said: "Love has been sweetened in popular culture so much that you have forgotten what love really is, which is why I wanted to answer that question."

"Some of you expect a love story to be sweet and sickly... but when I talk about a love story, it is more like a traffic accident or a serious disease."

The Frankfurt Book Fair, which attracts around 300,000 visitors and runs for a week each year, chose Turkish literature as a central theme this year.

One hundred Turkish publishers are attending the fair, as well as around 300 Turkish literary figures and translators.

Pamuk is one of Turkey's best-known writers and his novels include "Snow," "My Name is Red," and "Istanbul: Memories and the City," which was translated into 58 languages and has sold more than 7 million copies worldwide.

"Snow," in which the main character is shot in Frankfurt, has a particularly big following in Germany, home to about 2.5 million people of Turkish descent.

Political controversyDespite Pamuk's popularity and big sales, he is a controversial writer in Turkey.

He has been tried for comments about the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War One — a highly sensitive issue for Turkey. His case was dropped, but anger over his remarks lingers.

Pamuk's safety became an issue after the murder in January 2007 of prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in Istanbul. A key suspect in that murder, escorted by police in a courthouse, warned Pamuk to be careful.

Asked about the motivation behind his comments on politics, he said: "I sense the same anger and can greatly empathize with some of the journalists and organizations that ask me for my support... If I didn't give them my support, I would lose my self-respect."

Earlier in the week, the director of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Juergen Boos, said the political discussions of writers and publishers have been feared by authorities for centuries, but he was keen for the Frankfurt fair to continue as a platform for debate.

Sensitive issues for European Union aspirant Turkey, such as free speech and the rights of a large Kurdish minority, are all topics that will be touched upon at seminars and readings throughout the book fair.

Pamuk, who holds a visiting professorship at Columbia University, said he did not feel like a writer in exile, despite the hostility he has encountered in his homeland.

"I always say, half-jokingly, that my home is where my books are — and my books are in Istanbul," he said.

The author, who has collected some 70,000 tomes in his Istanbul library, said he loved books not only for their contents, but also as treasures that he could smell and stroke.

"As a small child, I smelled books before I read them... I first got to know the smell of Europe through the books my father would bring with him back from France."